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Israel announces three-hour reprieve to allow aid in

Video by Oliver FARRY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-01-07

Under increasing international pressure, Israel has stopped bombing the Gaza Strip for three hours to allow the passage of humanitarian aid inside the territory. According to Gaza medics, at least 680 Palestinians have been killed since Dec. 27.


See also UN, Red Cross warn of humanitarian nightmare


Israel temporarily stopped bombing over an area near the Palestinian territory's main city on Wednesday to allow the passage of humanitarian aid inside the territory, a military spokesman said.


"It was decided to suspend bombings between 1 and 4 o'clock (1100 GMT and 1400 GMT) every day starting today," an army spokeswoman said, adding that the military would respond if fired on and if rockets were launched from the enclave.


Reporting from the Kerem Shalom terminal on the southern Gaza border, FRANCE 24’s Lucas Menget said trucks transporting international aid started entering the Gaza Strip at 1.00 pm local time. “I see lorries belonging to the UN and to private organisations entering the terminal. Inside, the contents of the trucks are unloaded into a secure zone,” he said, adding that Palestinians then picked up the aid on the other side.


Meanwhile, a member of Hamas' politburo said that the Palestinian Islamist movement would not fire any rockets towards Israel while the Jewish state suspends its bombing of Gaza.


A day after Israeli forces bombed UN schools, killing dozens of civilians, the Israeli government was examining an Egyptian ceasefire proposal that would include new security guarantees to stop the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip.


In a statement, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said that it viewed "positively" talks with Egypt over a proposal to halt fighting but the Jewish state stopped short of accepting a ceasefire.


"Israel views positively dialogue between Egyptian and Israeli officials to advance those issues," the statement said.


Since the start of the Israeli offensive on Dec. 27, at least 680 Palestinians, including 215 children, have been killed and 2,950 wounded, according to Palestinian medics.



Egypt floats truce plan


On Wednesday, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert convened a security cabinet meeting to weigh expanding the army's offensive in the Gaza Strip and discuss an Egyptian ceasefire initiative, officials said.


On Tuesday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made his ceasefire call at a joint news conference in Egypt with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In Sharm El-Sheikh, Mubarak said the truce agreement would include new security measures to halt arms smuggling along the Gaza border. Such guarantees would include "securing the borders and... opening of the border crossings and lifting the siege," he said.


In New York, where the UN Security Council met on Gaza overnight, Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told reporters, "I am sure that (Egypt's proposal) will be considered and you will find out whether it was accepted. But we take it very, very seriously."


Israel has repeatedly said that it would accept a ceasefire only if it obtained guarantees that Hamas would no longer be able to fire rockets on its soil.



Operations continue early Wednesday morning


According to eye witnesses, fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas militants continued overnight, especially in the north of the Gaza Strip.


France 24’s Rajaa Abou Dagga in Gaza City confirms that fighting took place though the night was relatively clam and Palestinians could get some sleep. “At least 26 houses were destroyed overnight. In the Zeitoun neihgbourhood, residents were told to stay at home,” he said.


“In the east and the south we also heard bombing from the sea and from Israeli artillery,” he added. According to the AFP, Israel carried out some 40 air strikes across the territory overnight.


On Tuesday, Israel hit three UN schools where hundreds of people had taken refuge, maintaining that Hamas fighters were firing at them from the school buildings.


In an interview with FRANCE 24, Francesc Claret, a spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Ramallah – the agency which runs the schools - denied Israeli allegations that militants were based in the school in Jabalya refugee camp.


“There is not militant activity in the UN school in Jabalya, and we want to know why Israel hit the school,” he said, adding that 30 Palestinian civilians were killed and 115 wounded in the Israeli strike.


“Morale is very low,” he said after speaking to UNRWA officials in the Gaza Strip, “everybody is really scared and refugees do not know where to go now.”


FRANCE 24’s Rajaa Abou Dagga attended the funeral of the Palestinians killed in the strike and reports that many civilians were too scared and stayed at home. “Even the residents here were too scared to attend the funeral of the victims of the strikes, and that’s quite unlike Palestinian habits,” he said.


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Date created : 2009-01-07